The United States has the largest population of incarcerated persons in the world. In fact, the incarceration rate among residents is nearly five times the average rate within other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.
Consequently, more than 640,000 people are released and return to society each year. These individuals face myriad challenges and an environment that actively deters them from becoming productive members of society. Below is a brief exploration into the commonplace realities of re-entry.
One of the first hurdles a recently released person faces is their living situation. Having the basic necessity of somewhere to call home is often unattainable, or it comes with additional risk factors for recidivism. As a result, there are high levels of homelessness and housing insecurity for formerly incarcerated people. To make matters worse, being homeless has been shown to make individuals more likely to be arrested and incarcerated again. This is partly due to policies that criminalize homelessness and other aspects of living on the streets.
The challenge of housing can then create barriers to finding gainful employment. Research has shown that employment was the primary predictor of recidivism. One barrier to gaining employment is a lack of employer experience in hiring ex-offenders. What’s more, a survey reported that 25% of respondents had company policies against hiring such persons. A mere 3% of companies reported actively hiring individuals with a criminal record.
All these factors and many more make it unsurprising that 67.8% of ex-offenders are rearrested within three years of release. Such recidivism has repercussions on mental health and the families of inmates. It also affects society. Taxpayers continue to support a broken system, which sets ex-offenders up for failure upon release.
The need for drastic prison system reform is clear. However, progress is slow. More needs to be done to expand re-entry programs. An example of an effective yet underfunded re-entry program is the Transitions Clinic Network. This initiative aims to increase access to health care services, improve health, and reduce re-offense among recently released people with chronic illnesses.
Another program helping with re-entry is the Behavioral Health Justice Involved Initiative. Designed to facilitate the re-entry of people with histories of mental illness or substance use disorders, this program assigns a navigator to link them to proper care and addresses basic needs. An initial evaluation found increased housing stability and employment among participants as well as decreased legal violations.
While re-entry programs are beneficial, policymakers and those in power must do more to address and remove the obstacles ex-offenders face. Policy revisions and vast reform in the criminal justice system are necessary to reduce recidivism rates and give ex-offenders real opportunities that promote success.
For further information on the challenges of re-entry, please see the accompanying resource.
Infographic Created By Zoukis Consulting Group, Providing Experienced Legal Assistance With Federal Crimes and Charges